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How to Apply for Disability Benefits

Applying for Disability: SSI and SSDI

Individuals who believe that they qualify for Social Security Disability can get disability benefits by submitting an initial application for disability benefits on the internet, over the phone, or in person at a local Social Security Administration (SSA) office.

If the application is filled out correctly and all documentation is in order, applicants should receive a letter containing the SSA’s decision to approve or deny the claim within three to five months. Due to the overwhelming number of initial stage claims, however, combined with the fact that the SSA often enlists the help of state agencies in the review process, it is not uncommon for paperwork to be misplaced and the SSA decision delayed several months. This is particularly true for applications that are incompletely or incorrectly filled out and filed by the applicant.

If the SSA’s decision, once it arrives, is favorable, the claimant will be awarded a monthly benefit payment along with backpay.

Backpay refers to a payment awarded to the claimant equal to the monthly benefit they would have received during the application process if the claim had been approved at the initial application date. In addition, backpay can cover up to twelve months prior to the initial application date, as long as the claimant can prove that they were disabled during that time. Because Social Security Disability cases routinely take several years to reach a final decision, backpay can be a substantial sum.

If a claimant receives an unfavorable decision and feels that the SSA has chosen to deny his or her claim in error, there is an extensive appeals process through which the decision may be reviewed.

The Appeals Process

The Social Security application process contains four levels of appeal, any of which can overturn all or part of previous decisions made by the SSA. These stages are Reconsideration, Hearing, Appeals Council Hearing, and Federal District Court Appeal.

  • In the Reconsideration stage, the claim will be resubmitted for review by an SSA representative not involved in the initial denial decision. Unfortunately, denial rates for this stage approach 85%, so it is likely that the case will need to go to Hearing.

  • In the Hearing stage, the disability claim will go before an Administrative Law Judge. The claimant will be allowed to present evidence, bring forth witnesses, and answer questions to support his or her case before the judge. After the hearing, the SSA will send a letter containing a copy of the judge’s written decision.

  • If the claimant disagrees with the judge’s decision, the case can be brought before a Social Security Appeals Council. The council can deny the appeal, send the case back to an Administrative Law Judge for review, or hear and decide the case itself.

  • If the result of the Appeals Council Hearing is still unsatisfactory, the only recourse is to attempt to file a lawsuit in Federal District Court.

Benefits of Representation

As previously mentioned, denials of claims at the initial and reconsideration stage are common, and the Social Security appeals process can be lengthy, complicated, and overwhelming.

Having a qualified lawyer or legal advocate who practices Social Security Disability law can be extremely beneficial and will greatly increase the chances of a favorable decision for your claim. An experienced legal representative can help to collect and organize medical records and other documentation, file reconsideration and appeal requests in a correct and timely manner, and prepare both the claimant and witnesses before Administrative Law Judge and Appeals Council hearings.

In addition, legal fees for Social Security cases are mandated by the SSA, and are only awarded to representatives as a percentage of claimant’s backpay with a maximum allowable fee of $6000 (as of June 2009). Therefore, there is no upfront cost to having a lawyer handle a Social Security Disability case.

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If you are disabled and wish to get disability benefits, contact us or fill out our free, no obligation disability case evaluation today.